Wilma Dykeman Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Asheville, North Carolina, 1920. Education: Biltmore Junior College, Asheville, North Carolina; Northwestern University, Chicago, B.A. Career: Writer and lecturer. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1955; Thomas Wolfe Memorial Trophy, 1955; Hillman award, 1958; special Waukegan Club award (Chicago Friends of American Writers), 1963; National Endowment for the Humanities senior fellowship; named Tennessee Conservation Writer of the Year; honorary doctor of literature, Maryville College; named Tennessee Outstanding Speaker of the Year (State Association of Speech Arts Teachers and Professors); Distinguished Service award (University of North Carolina at Asheville).
The Tall Woman. New York, Holt, 1962.
The Far Family. New York, Holt, 1966.
Return the Innocent Earth. New York, Holt, 1973.
Explorations. Newport, Tennessee, Wakestone Books, 1984.
The French Broad (nonfiction). New York, Rinehart, 1955.
Neither Black Nor White (nonfiction, with James R. Stokely). NewYork, Rinehart, 1957.
Seeds of Southern Change: The Life of Will Alexander (with James R. Stokely). University of Chicago Press, 1962.
Prophet of Plenty: The First Ninety Years of W.D. Weatherford. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1966.
Look to This Day (essays). New York, Holt, 1968.
The Border States (with James R. Stokely). New York, Time-LifeBooks, 1970.
Too Many People, Too Little Love (biography of Edna RankinMcKinnon). New York, Holt, 1974.
Tennessee: A Bicentennial History. New York, Norton, 1975.
Tennessee Women, Past and Present, edited by Carol Lyn Yellin.1977.
Highland Homeland: The People of the Great Smokies (with son, JimStokely). Washington, D.C., National Park Service, 1978.
With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780, illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman. Washington, D.C., National Park Service, 1978.
Tennessee, photography by Edward Schell. Portland, Oregon, GraphicArts Publishing Company, 1979.
Appalachian Mountains (with son, Dykeman Stokely), illustrated byClyde H. Smith. Portland, Oregon, Graphic Arts Publishing Company, 1980.
Foreword, Flowering of the Cumberland by Harriette Simpson Arnow. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1984.
Foreword, Seedtime on the Cumberland by Harriette Simpson Arnow. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1984.
Tennessee: A History. New York, Norton, 1984.
At Home in the Smokies: A History Handbook for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of the Interior, 1984.
Foreward, The WPA Guide to Tennessee. Knoxville, University ofTennessee Press, 1986.
Foreword, Strangers in High Places: The Story of the Great Smoky Mountains by Michael Frome. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1994.
Introduction, Daughter of the Legend by Jesse Stuart, edited by John H. Spurlock. Ashland, Kentucky, J. Stuart Foundation, 1994.
Haunting Memories: Echoes and Images of Tennessee's Past, photographs by Christine P. Patterson. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1996.
Foreword, The Last Chivaree: The Hicks Family of Beech Mountain by Robert Isbell. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Foreword, Reverend Joseph Tarkington, Methodist Circuit Rider: From Frontier Evangelism to Refined Religion by David L. Kimbrough. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 1997.
Contributor, We Dissent, edited by Hoke Norris. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1962.
Contributor, The Southern Appalachian Region: A Survey. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1962.
Contributor, Nashville: The Faces of Two Centuries, 1780-1980 byJohn Egerton. Nashville, PlusMedia, 1979.
Contributor, Tennessee, A Homecoming, edited by John Netherton. Third National Corporation, 1985.
Tell It on the Mountain: Appalachian Women Writers (sound recording, interviews by Nikki Giovanni), Whitesburg, Kentucky, WMMT-FM, 1995.
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Wilma Dykeman was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1920, and she has lived most of her life near the French Broad River in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The river is the subject of her first book, The French Broad, a volume in the Rivers of America series and winner of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Trophy, but it is also a recurring figure in Dykeman's work. A metaphor for generational continuity and the flow of history into the present, the river in many ways encapsulates Dykeman's concerns as a novelist, biographer, and historian: the importance of place, the connectedness of humanity, and the enduring relevance of the past.
Wilma Dykeman's first writings were short stories, radio scripts, and articles for Harper's and the New York Times Magazine, among other periodicals. Among her sixteen books, one finds a writerly fusion of social history, historical fiction, and memoir, all imbued with concerned engagement with contemporary sociopolitical issues. Dykeman's Neither Black Nor White, for instance, a collaboration with her husband, James Stokely, is a personal reflection on the Brown desegregation decision of 1954. The book won the Hillman Award for its contributions to world peace, civil liberties, and race relations.
Unfortunately, Dykeman's novels have too often been relegated to the minor category of regional fiction. Her fiction is decidedly rooted in Appalachia with the distinctive tenor of mountain dialect, but her themes are hardly unique to Southern life. Concerned especially with the changing roles of women and race relations, Dykeman in reality deals with some of the most universal issues of contemporary life. Her two most widely read works of fiction, The Tall Woman and its continuation The Far Family, both center around the lives of mountain women and challenge persisting stereotypes of Southern womanhood. Lydia McQueen, the protagonist of The Tall Woman, is especially antithetical to conventional portraits of the Southern lady. McQueen is committed to building a school for the mountain children of Thickety Creek in the years of Reconstruction, and she heroically stares down the man who would oppose her. But it is not only Dykeman's strong characters that offer an alternative view of femininity. The historical details that the author embeds in her novels—the realities of mountain midwifery, for example—also work to dispute female stereotypes by showing their basis in misinformation about the leading roles women have played throughout history.
In honor of the contributions her histories, biographies, and historical novels have made, the state of Tennessee named Dykeman State Historian in 1981. She is the recipient of numerous honorary doctoral degrees and an honorary Phi Beta Kappa. In addition, she has received a Guggenheim fellowship, a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Chicago Friends of American Writers Award, the Distinguished Southern Writer Award of the Southern Festival of Books, and the North Carolina Gold Medal for Contribution to American Letters. For over twenty years, she has served as a professor in the English department at the University of Tennessee, and she sits on numerous regional and national boards dealing with conservation, literature, history, and women's issues.
—Michele S. Shauf
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